Electrical switch

From sports cars to aero-planes, scientists across the world are seeking inexpensive and environment friendly ways to power up our modern electronics.

For the past six months, a team of US based students has spent hundreds of hours many late at night converting a sleek Porsche 914 into an electric vehicle. Their goal is to demonstrate the viability of advanced electric vehicle technology, even in sports cars.

The Porsche was donated by Professor Yang Shao-Horn who teaches mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. Shao-Horn bought the car and made it available to students interested in converting it to an electric powered vehicle.

The project will ultimately yield information valuable to Shao-Horn’s research on advanced batteries. She and her team in the Electrochemical Energy Laboratory of the university will be able to measure the conditions that batteries encounter inside an operating vehicle, and what would be the challenges of incorporating the same in a sports vehicle.

In the laboratory, they work on materials to make batteries safer, last longer and have higher energy. But they are also interested in gaining a good perspective on the system view. What’s involved in building an electric vehicle and what’s required of the batteries?

The student project took off a year ago when Valence Technology a leading producer of batteries in the US agreed to denote 18 high-tech rechargeable batteries plus a battery management system.

While today’s electric cars operate on conventional lead-acid batteries, the company provided lithium phosphate rechargeable batteries. These are lighter, last longer, charge up faster have a longer life time and don’t pose a safety risk

To convert the gas-guzzling sports vehicle into an electric one, the students replaced the original engine with an electric motor, 12 of the batteries, the battery management system, various relays and a controller that makes it all work together.

Still, things haven’t always gone smoothly.

There’s been a lot of adapting things that don’t work as they’re designed and had to come up with some creative solutions.

According to their best estimates the car should produce 50 to 60 horsepower and have a top speed of 110 to 160 k mph.

Plugging it into a wall socket should fully recharge the batteries in four to five hours, and it should then go 160 kilometers or more before it needs re-charging.

The Porsche will be put through its paces in the next few weeks.